Generation Jones

Hi Everyone, my name is Michael Colford, and I am the on the Senior Management Team of the Boston Public Library in charge of Regional Services.

When Michael asked me to guest blog on Tame the Web, I was both surprised and honored. I’ve done a fair bit of blogging, but not a whole lot in the library profession. That said, in my position at the BPL, I do a whole lot of talking up of using technology in the support of public service, and meeting users where they are using Social Networking and other Library 2.0 tools.

I thought for my first post here I’d share my musings on something that’s been on my mind for the past week orso. We all know about the Millennial Generation, and we’ve been hearing about their traits and how most libraries are failing to appeal to them. Most of them adapt to changing technology easily and are comfortable interacting socially online. We also know all about the Baby Boom Generation, many of whom are nearing retirement and who for the most part, shaped the library world into what it is today. The Baby Boomers aren’t known for a rapid embrace of the recent online social networks, but of course, there are exceptions.

My question revolves around the generation between, a whole lot of Generation Xers and the little heard-of Generation Jones, those of us born between the mid-1950’s and the mid 1960’s. What makes some of the people born in these generations embrace the recent developments in technology and online socialization, while others simply have no interest?

I am part of that elusive Generation Jones, and I have to say I’ve pretty strongly embraced the Web 2.0 concepts, and use them pretty regularly on a day-to-day basis. I dial my cell phone with my thumbs (a signifier of the digital native, which I am not) and I am an Omnivore according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project (a group whose median age is 28 — I am 44). When I think about what makes me different from my contemporaries who do not, I can trace some behaviors back to some pre-Internet activities. As a younger person, I was into science fiction and fantasy, comic books, and alternative music. These were niches that tended to spawn fans groups. I was a member of several musicians’ fan clubs, and corresponded with other fans through letters. Similarly, if I wanted to interact with other like-minded comic book geeks, I either had to hang out in comic book stores, which weren’t the most welcoming places back then, or read the letter pages in the back of the books (and write letters, some of which would occassionally get published.) When the Internet arrived, I immediately found uses for Gopher, Archie and Vernoica becoming active in interest groups for such figures as Neil Gaiman and Kate Bush. Now I read Neil’s blog, and I am a member of a (astoundingly) old-fashioned e-mail discussion group called Ecto that revolves around female singer/songwriters.

I also run an independent film society, the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film that involves a nationwide group of indie film buffs. When these social networking tools started to pop up and be discussed in the library world, I took an interest because I knew I had an immediate use for them… with my film group. Becoming familiar and comfortable with them quickly translated to using them (or wanting to use them) at work. Hence, I have become a proponent of using these tools in the library. Many of my similarly-aged colleagues just don’t have the time to branch out or they find tangible media sufficient for their needs. They may even know that they need to be aware of newer web-based tools because a large part of their customer base uses them constantly.

So what do you think? Why do some people take to emerging technology trends and ways of interacting while others do not? Do you have any thoughts?

By the way, I am also the Conference Chair for the Massachusetts Library Association, and we were fortunate enough to have a whole host of library luminaries at our recent annual conference such as Jenny Levine, Stephen Abram, Jessamyn West, Karen Calhoun, Sean Stewart, and Nancy Pearl (to name a few). Check out the amazing conference blog to see what went on.

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7 thoughts on “Generation Jones”

  1. Great post, Michael! I’ve been pondering another blog post about this, because it’s an issue I think needs to be explored more. Rachel Singer Gordon opened the door, but I think there’s more conversation to be had.

    I have come to believe that Gen X (and now maybe Gen Jones, which I didn’t know about) are the bridge our profession needs. This won’t sound right, but we need to be exploited more! We have some of the history, tradition, and perspective that Boomers have, but we’ve also grown up with technology in a way that gives a great many of us a natural affinity with Millennials.

    I think the problem is that we’re stuck in the middle with no authority, little respect, and a smaller cohort. Like you, I wonder how do we change this and help the folks on both sides of us?

  2. I think it also has to do with openess to change. you can be 15 and not be open to change.

    Funny you say you liked Science Fiction but then said it was the fan base that you think made you more open to web2.0 technologies. My immediate thought was that I was always interested in what could be or what if and that’s why I liked science fiction. I was open to other possibilities. web2.0 or any change is another possibility.

    We are borrowing and adapting Helen Blowers Library 2.0 training blog to train our library staff. We have upper management support and so far positive reaction from staff.
    check it out.

    llll2.wordpress.com

    vc

  3. Never heard the term Generation Jones before, but I think it fits. I, too, am 44. What made me embrace early technology? Would you believe it was because I could find free clipart for WordPerfect from BBS boards? Such things as archie, gopher, ftp, and veronica fascinated me because they provided a direct link to information *somewhere else* and it all was done pretty quickly. (At the time, I thought a 14.4 modem screamed along those old phone lines!)

    I discovered very quickly that communication online opened up so many doors. I met people on FIDOnet who I work with today and who encouraged me to become a librarian.

    What makes me different than my younger colleagues? Not much, except the technology available to them has been much easier to access, but no less cool.

  4. Hi, Michael. Loved your post! I’ve never heard of Generation Jones, either. I’ve always self-identified as a GenXer, born in 1964. I sort of see myself as an elder statesperson of GenX.

    I think part of what makes us early adopters of 2.0 technologies is our generational cynicism. I think it has its roots in both the hedonism and pessimism of the 80s. I think because we’ve been denied a voice, we’re desperate to identify with someone, anyone, so we reach out — heck, we grasp – at anything that connects us.

    Also, I think we’re the first generation who was exposed to technology as infotainment. My first year of university (1982) I had to use a card catalog to do my research. By my second year, everything was on a computer and things developed at a dizzying pace from there. And let’s not forget that singular tech icon of our age — the music video. Prior to videos and computers, I reckon the single biggest technological leap was the telephone. That’s a pretty big gap.

    I think our willingness to embrace both technology and Millennials will make us uniquely positioned to manage libraries in the coming years and to direct the course of our profession. I think our openness, our awareness of our previous disenfranchisement and our distrust/disrespect for authority will make us great innovators and leaders and great mentors for the generations to follow.

  5. I enjoyed reading your post. I guess I am either a members of the MTV Generation or a Millenial, being born in 1983.(Sorry if I made anyone feel old) I have had something to learn from the concept of Web 2.0. For instance, I have just started blogging in 2007 and it is all new to me. It is very interesting how libraries can incorporate the emerging technologies and embrace them.

  6. Neat Blog!
    Web 2.0, wow, I have not thought of that in years.
    We Gen. Jones peeps are from the rise of the arcade, and atomic
    age. We are the largest generation currently, I think.

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